In Russia, there is what is called "Turkology," a set of scientific humanitarian disciplines, studying everything related to Turkey. Initially, Turkology developed primarily as a philological science. Nowadays, if you are confronted by a Russian specialist who calls himself a "Turkolog" or a specialist on Turkey, then it is appropriate to inquire which Turkological school he represents. Because, in terms of the Turkish studies, for example, Moscow University is one thing while the St. Petersburg University is something else. This shows clearly how much Turkish studies have developed in Russia: Turkology has long gone beyond the study of Ottoman and Turkish languages and includes, in general, everything related to Turkey – history, economy, politics, literature, folklore, religion, ethnography, spiritual and material culture, and so on.
Neither the Russian Empire, nor the Soviet Union, nor the Russian Federation experienced any shortages in Turkologs: There were more than enough specialists prepared and continue to be prepared to develop dialogue and cooperation or sometimes to argue, which is quite normal for neighbors, with Turkey. Among the most famous professional Turkologs is the press secretary of Russia's President, Dmitry Peskov, and the head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Vladimir Zhirinovsky. They are not regular specialists on Turkey, both have devoted parts of their lives to Turkey, where they have lived and worked.
On the other hand, what does it mean to have several thousand specialists, well versed in Turkey, in the scale of a large country? A very narrow layer of the population with a certain professional orientation may be. However, a persistent feeling developed and hasn't left me over the last couple of years that many educational centers on Turkey registered nowhere have appeared somewhere in Russia. As illegal underground gambling houses exist, so did the institutes for preparing Turkologs. All of a sudden many people in Russian media started talking about Turkey. Like you may guess, unfortunately, quite often these speakers are not specialists on Turkey or the Middle East. Even worse: Many of them have never been to this country in their life.
Russian media on Turkey
What is happening in the Russian media concerning Turkey is a separate subject and as a Russian citizen, I admit that it is not always a very cheerful conversation.
Meanwhile, the interest in Turkey and demand for information on it has significantly grown in Russia. And I am talking not only about the interest of specialists but about the interest of ordinary Russian citizens.
This demand is so great, that a few days ago we even launched the only regular program in Russia, dedicated entirely to Turkey, at the largest radio channel of Russia (Vesti FM), where I participate as a permanent expert. We named it "The Hour of Turkey" and, surprisingly, we got a lot of questions not only about the Turkish culture or tourism but also related to the internal political situation in Turkey.
To some extent, I explain this by the high level of the political dialogue that exists between Turkey and Russia. To some extent, because of the fact political systems in Turkey and in Russia, with all their external differences, are quite similar to each other. Probably, one more reason is that many Russians consider Turkey not only as a place for tourism but also as a country for investment and to live. Logically, when the questions like "to invest or not to invest?" and "to live or not to live?" even you are not interested in politics, you will likely be interested.
I remember the days when Turkish internal politics became a frequent topic in Russian media and how the professional speakers on Russian TV even stumbled when uttering the names of Turkish politicians for the first time. Of course, I don't mean the president of Turkey – there is no room for a slip of the tongue there. But today if you open Russian TV, you may feel the difference: The names and surnames of all famous Turkish politicians are pronounced clearly and without hesitation by Russian speakers.
What was the catalyst of the interest in Russia to the domestic politics in Turkey? Naturally, it did not happen right away.
Perhaps, for the first time in my memory, the domestic politics in Turkey received wide coverage in Russian media in 2013, in light of the unfortunate events on Taksim Square and in Gezi Park in Istanbul. I guess at that time many ordinary Russians realized that Turkey is far from being featured on the cover of a travel magazine or a place of eternal "all-inclusive" celebration and carnivals. They saw that Turkey has its own internal workings that are not simple at times and are capable of bringing surprises. Thus, ordinary Russian citizens understood what was already known to the professionals.
The second time the Russian public was shocked by news from Turkey was the coup attempt on the night of July 15, 2016. Of course, those deeply interested in Turkey were aware that there had been many coups in the country in the past; however, few Russians could have imagined that this could happen in today's Turkey. The tragic assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov in Ankara in December 2016 finally convinced the Russians that Turkish internal politics was very complicated and possessed many strong undercurrents. In one famous movie from the Soviet era, there is a phrase "East is a delicate matter," which has long become an aphorism. Nowadays it is often applied in Russia to Turkey.
And finally, the third time Russia widely talked about the internal situation in Turkey was when the U.S. threatened to impose sanctions and "bring down" the Turkish economy if Ankara did not abandon its contract to buy S-400 air defense systems from Russia.
The fact that the U.S. promised to apply the Countering America's Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) against Turkey, who it often calls a "model partner" and who is one of the oldest members of NATO, was met in Russia with sincere amazement.
This made the Russians take a closer look at the events of last year, when the Turkish economy became, in a literal sense, the object of a massive attack from the outside. This was, after all, not for the first or even the second time: Both the events of 2013 and the events of 2016 can be traced directly back to Capitol Hill.
Time after time, Washington has demonstrated to the world that it deals with everything and writes its foreign policy based on an American version of the "all-inclusive" system. Turks have now experienced this firsthand. One can only be astonished by the degree of their cynicism when they announced Russia's "attempt" to intervene in their presidential elections. Are they serious? Never mind the influence of Hollywood's "factory of dreams" and social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, in the hands of the American propaganda machine.
The milestone on Sunday
March 31, 2019 is being seen in Russia as another milestone in the history of Turkey. It might, however, seem a bit irrational since it is the date of the municipal elections not the presidential or general ones. Here I would like to emphasize I do not mean there is a preferred scenario for the March 31 elections in Turkey for Russia. Naturally, this is the choice of the Turkish people themselves.
But in Russia there is a complete conviction that U.S. pressure on Turkey following the April 1 vote may increase many times over and that the Turkish economy may become once again the target of Americans if the Turkish side does not abandon strategic projects of Russian-Turkish cooperation, including, first of all, the S-400 system. So, Russia will be paying close attention to what happens in Turkey's municipal elections and especially the period following.
In this sense, I would like to wish success to all Turkish political parties and independent candidates of the March 31 elections, including the independent mayoral candidate in Alanya, who is a former Russian citizen. Also, I hope those who win on March 31, regardless of their political views and convictions, will not give in to external pressure, no matter how massive it may be, but act as a united front of elected representatives of the great and independent nation, protecting, first of all, their own national interests and not listening to overseas voices. Perhaps this is what President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan meant when he coined the term "Yenikapı Spirit." Whatever you call it, the nation's spirit has manifested itself as a turning point for the country. There is no doubt that March 31 will be an important date. Good luck!
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